(CNN)Salvation Army bell ringers, the folks you see jingling bells by red kettles at Christmastime, will be carrying a new prop this year: A card explaining the Christian church and charity's approach to LGBTQ people.
How the Salvation Army is trying to change its 'anti-LGBTQ' reputation
Designed to help bell ringers answer questions from passersby, the cards include a link to online testimonials from LGBTQ people helped by the Salvation Army's array of social services, from homeless shelters to rehab clinics and food pantries.
"For years, Facebook posts, forwarded emails and rumors have been leading some people to believe the Salvation Army does not serve members of the LGBTQ community," the cards read. "These accusations are simply not true."
To many Americans, the Army's social services may be far more familiar than its politics or theology. Ranked number two in the Chronicle of Philanthropy's list of "America's Favorite Charities," it raised $1.5 billion in donations last year. The Red Kettle campaign began 129 years ago, when a Salvationist put out a pot for the needy on Market Street in San Francisco.
But to some in the LGBTQ community, the Salvation Army has another reputation. For decades, they've accused Salvationsts of denying some services to same-sex couples, advocating against gay rights and adhering to a traditional theology that considers gay sex sinful. At times, LGBTQ activists have dropped fake dollar bills or vouchers protesting the Salvation Army in the red kettles.
"The Salvation Army has been advertising that it will help LGBTQ people in need, which is a good step, but it can't be the only step," said Ross Murray a director of education and training at GLAAD.
"The Salvation Army's anti-LGBTQ history was multi-faceted. And its path to LGBTQ acceptance is also going to have to be multi-faceted."
In the past, Salvation Army leaders have sought exemptions from federal and state anti-discrimination laws designed to protect LGBTQ people. They have also joined other conservative religious groups in opposing same-sex marriage.
Criticism of the army among LGBTQ supporters peaked in 2012 when a church leader told an Australia radio program that gay people should be put to death. (The organization apologized and said the leader had not accurately conveyed its views on homosexuality.)
But Salvation Army leaders say the group no longer lobbies or signs public letters pushing for specific policies, with the exception of tax laws. Some are frustrated their anti-gay reputation still sticks.
"It's the conversation that never seems to go away," Commissioner David Hudson, the Salvation Army's National Commander in the United States, told CNN in an interview.
"My frustration is that someone picks something out of a Twitter feed or reads an old article and doesn't take the time to visit us."
Last month, British singer Ellie Goulding threatened to cancel a gig at a Red Kettle Campaign event in Texas because she believed the Salvation Army to be anti-LGBTQ. Goulding later changed her mind and performed. Earlier this month Out magazine knocked Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is gay, for participating in Salvation Army events as mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Attacks from gay rights groups are one thing. But many conservative Christians, and the Salvation Army itself seemed perplexed when the Christian-owned fast food franchise Chick-fil-A announced it would stop donating to the Salvation Army and another Christian organization.
In a statement, Chick-fil-A didn't explain the change but said it would focus on donating to charities involved in education, hunger and homelessness. Critics of Chick-fil-A's move noted the Salva